With the airing of its 11th episode, Present for Duty, the Serial podcast team ended this season much like it ended its first – with many unanswered questions and unclear answers. What was Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's fault, and what wasn't, they asked. Who is to blame for so much of what happened in Afghanistan during his disappearance – and even after?
The episode continued to try to answer perhaps the thorniest question of all in the Bergdahl case: Did American soldiers die searching for him? As far as the public knows, the Army did not carry out an official investigation or create a report answering that question. At least one former leader in Bergdahl's battalion said no. The former head of intelligence in Afghanistan at the time said absolutely, yes. And then there were a lot of "sort of," "maybe" and "yes and no."
How can it be so gray? For one, in the weeks and months after Bergdahl's disappearance, the patrols that went out were not always clearly dedicated to his search and rescue. Much of the time, soldiers didn't know why they were going out for patrol, and higher up the chain, the reasons for patrols could be an "umbrella," as Serial's Sarah Koenig put it – it could be to find a certain Taliban leader, to take special outreach teams into the community and/or to try to find out information on Bergdahl's whereabouts. His search was a reason for patrol often sandwiched in with other reasons for patrols, or requests for other resources.
Did people die on patrols after Bergdahl disappeared? Yes. Were they searching for Bergdahl when he died? Maybe.
To be sure, a lot of blame has been pinned on Bergdahl for deserting his post, one of the most egregious things one can do in the military. But as the Serial team wrapped up the season they zoomed out to the bigger picture – what it means to be at war, the haziness and ambiguity of this war in particular, and the public's anger and confusion surrounding the War on Terror. And in between the big picture and the particulars of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl lie some interesting parallels.
"The question of how the country ultimately views him speaks to our capacity for forgiveness in some ways and also the ambivalence about Bowe reflects the larger confusion of wars," Mark Boal, the producer whose taped interviews with Bergdahl propelled the season, said in the final episode, highlighting the differences between previous wars. "Because there's this incredible haze over our thinking about the War on Terror because these wars just seem to be so hard to define, it seems like as a country we don't know what to do with this guy."
Bergdahl current works desk duty at Joint Base San Antonio while he awaits his military trial.